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Get your shoes Mitzi!

“Mitzi, we’re heading for the track on Saturday,” Raoul poked his head into my office door. That was his way of announcing he’d made headway on tracking down our next sewing circle member, Maria Rodriguez.

Since he’d been doing nicely on this case so far—and because I still felt guilty for butting in on his first investigation in the bodega—I was letting him hunt down the Williamsburg Sewing Circle members by himself, and then we both would handle the investigation part.

Our situation worked well for me—after all, who’s going to argue with someone doing your legwork? It worked out well for Raoul, too, because it was the first part of a case that he’d had for his own, and the kid deserves it. My only hope is that I can still get away with calling him kid!

But first, I had to ask about the track. I wasn’t exactly jumping up and down at the prospect of returning to that place. You see, it’s not exactly your average running track. Ice Cream TruckTo even call it a running track isn’t really doing it justice, since running is definitely optional on this track.

In fact, it’s used for practically any activity other than running. Visit on a summer Saturday afternoon, and you’ll find yourself dodging kids on bikes and in-line skates, men drinking beer and watching the soccer game in the middle of the track, stray soccer balls, and even the ice cream guy who honks his horn to the soccer spectators.

It’s not so much running as an obstacle course, but at least it makes things interesting. Even though I’ve done my share of eye-rolling as another kid swerves his bike in my way, there’s also something appealing about the track atmosphere. I have a serious love/hate relationship with it (come to think of it, it’s the same way I feel about New York, but that’s a story for another day).

“If I may be so bold, what are we going to the track for?” I asked.

“Because Ms. Rodriguez will be there,” he replied, looking quite satisfied with himself, I might add.

How he found that out— or how he planned to strike up a conversation with her once he got there— was beyond me. But then again, that’s why I pay the kid the big bucks, to figure these things out.

Besides, his Puerto Rican-ness gets him a lot farther than my white Midwestern looks do in these parts. It was clear that in face-to-face work, Raoul would be doing the bulk of the investigation. My job was to slink into the sidelines and eavesdrop. And, so it appears this time, run around the track as he conducted his investigation.

“Why do I need to bring my running shoes? Do you really want me to run?” I asked, hoping he’d say he was just kidding. I wasn’t exactly anxious to show off my plodding pace.

soccer“Because I thought it was the only way you could be there without looking suspicious. I don’t assume there are many white girls hanging out to watch the soccer game,” he answered, nodding and putting his hands on his hips in his “you already know the answer to that one” way. I hate it when he does that, because he’s usually right.

The kid had a point…

I had to admit it. Still, I hadn’t run in so long that I wasn’t even sure my New Balance shoes fit me anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I stay in shape (a detective has to, you know), I just prefer to get my exercise in less obvious ways, like walking everywhere.

You see, I used to be big on the running thing in my 20s, and even have been known to enter a race or two. But as more and more people entered the running scene, it became more of a contest for them. So when I realized that people weren’t going to stop asking me how many miles I ran and how fast I ran them, I decided to drop from the scene entirely as a sort of rebellion. At least when I say I don’t run at all, no one can ask for my personal best time anymore! I mean, when you say that you get your exercise by walking everywhere, no one is curious to know how fast you can cover 10 city blocks.

“Are you sure about this? I mean, how are you just going to strike up a conversation with her and find out about this mystery quilt?” I asked.

I should have known better than to pose such a question, though, because sure enough the hands went straight to his hips again. This time, he even shook his head at me (the nerve!).

“Don’t worry about that, Mitzi, I have my ways.” And twice in one conversation, I had to admit — the kid had a point.

Running ShoesI arrived at the track that Saturday, outfitted in running shoes and one of my old running standard outfits — black shorts and white tank top from an old race. My New Balance shoes were surprisingly bouncy as I walked to the track, and I found myself actually looking forward to running again.

Sure enough, the old familiar obstacles that I knew and loved — and hated — were there. This time, there was even a hot dog stand parked next to the track to feed the hungry spectators. A soccer game was already in progress, the two teams geared up in satiny shirts. I noticed that one of the teams was sporting a South Side team jersey, and I inwardly cheered for them since that’s officially where I live within Williamsburg (you’ll never find more turf-conscious people than Brooklynites).

As Raoul and I had arranged, I would start running at 1:00 and he would already be there, chatting up our next suspect — if suspect is what you could call them, anyway, since this case is hardly run-of-the-mill.

Anyway, as I started stretching next to the track, I spotted Raoul next to a few spectators, watching the game as if he had a personal interest in it, clapping and hooting with the others.

The track was in its full glory today, as I discovered once I started running. I had only gone half a lap and already had to dodge one kid flying a kite, one walker, one stray soccer ball that was kicked in my path and two men drinking beer as they watched the game (hello? This is a track!).

My adrenaline level was already pumped up by the time I finished one lap, and I quickly remembered why I hated/loved the track at the same time. On the one hand, it’s maddening that you have to put so much effort into running on a track, and on the other hand it’s so hilarious you don’t want it to change one bit.

Huff… Puff…

As I started my second loop, I fell into a good pace and was surprised at how good I felt. Maybe I should take up running again, I thought to myself. I’ll just TELL people that I don’t run, so they don’t ask me the competitive questions, but really I’ll be lacing my shoes with the best of ‘em.

It wasn’t until I started my third lap that I remembered my reason for being there in the first place (wow, this runner’s high really zones you out, doesn’t it?). I glanced around and noticed Raoul now standing next to an older woman who was sitting on a blanket with a picnic basket in front of her. I pegged her to be our target, and I silently congratulated Raoul, who seemed to be having no problems engaging her in conversation.

She motioned for him to sit down then, pulling something from her picnic basket. At that point, I focused my attention ahead because I didn’t want to appear obvious (besides, it doesn’t hurt to watch where you’re going when you’re on this track). By the time I had rounded the bend and could face them again I saw that he was holding a Coke and sitting on the blanket next to her.

I marveled at his skills as I started on my 4th lap, and I wondered what they were talking about. Their conversation continued for another four laps — this time, I was actually timing myself on a mile just for kicks. Why not, you know?

But when I finished my second mile, I saw Raoul and the woman examining the blanket they were sitting on, looking underneath it and everything. Finally, Raoul picked something off the ground at the same time that I realized they were sitting on a quilt — in my running-induced haze, I hadn’t even noticed!

I was dying to know if the quilt contained a border that went along with the others. We have to start wiring ourselves for sound and letting me listen in, because the suspense is killing me, I thought to myself as I checked my watch to gauge my running progress. I made a vow to be more actively involved in the next investigation, but this one seemed to be all in Raoul’s hands.

So, since there was no point in lamenting that fact, I decided to time myself in another mile while I was at it. When I was halfway through, I saw Raoul get up to leave.

Running shoeI still had two more laps left, and I figured at my speedy pace it wouldn’t take long, so I continued the mile. Hey, I didn’t want it to look obvious if I left the track at the same time he did, did I now? I was pleased with my time — 8:35 — and surprised at myself for even caring about my time. I’m afraid I had entered another running phase of my life.

When I stepped off the track and crossed the street, Raoul was waiting for me on a nearby bench, and he stood up to meet me.

“So you have a nice stride out there, how fast were you going, anyway?” he asked, grinning.

“Oh, you know I don’t really care about time,” I replied.

“Uh huh, and that’s why you barely looked up from your stopwatch to notice that I had left the track?”

“Hey, I was doing that on purpose. I didn’t want to arouse suspicion if we left the track together,” I protested, although I knew I had been busted.

“Yeah, right, like anyone really would think we’re together,” he gestured back and forth between us. I had to admit, we looked like quite the motley crew.

“So tell me, how did the investigation go? Was that our woman you were sitting with?”

“It was indeed. I worked my magic like usual, and she was putty in my hands. I even got a Coke out of the deal!”

“Good man.” I figured if I called him kid, he wouldn’t be as likely to spill the beans on what he found out.

“But the best part was, I got the border! And it was ingenious, Mitzi. I pretended like I’d lost my keys in the grass, and I had to lift up the quilt in case they were underneath. That’s when I saw it!”

“Saw what?” I could tell he enjoyed dragging this out, to show off his detecting skill.

More letter clues…

“I saw a lower-case i on one side, and an r on the other side, right there in broad daylight. I don’t even think she suspected a thing, either, she trusted me like I was her own grandson and she was worried about finding my keys!”

“So tell me, how did you strike up a conversation, anyway?”

“I have my ways, Mitzi, I have my ways,” he laughed. “In this neighborhood, if you speak fluent Spanish, you might as well be a relative. But I can’t divulge all my secrets, man. Hey, how ’bout some Vinnie’s pizza? It’s even my treat!”

“Wow, you must be really proud of yourself if you are even going to spring for a slice. But first, I have to take a shower. I really worked up a sweat out there, in case you hadn’t noticed that someone was working hard while someone else was lounging on a blanket chatting with the locals.”

“A quilt — I was lounging on a quilt!” Raoul said. “Sheesh, some Quilt Detective you are!”

The kid had a point— next investigation was mine, Spanish skills or no Spanish skills. Hey, I have my ways, too, you know.

to be continued…